The big work reset continues. Can learning seal the deal?

As we dive into key talent strategy trends for 2024, one theme emerges again and again. What many are calling “The Great Work Reset” is not over yet. Far from it. Employers still have more work to do in repairing employee relationships. Here’s a powerful way to change course: commit to continued employee growth. In other words, build your new working agreement around meaningful learning and development for everyone.

What happens with the big work reset?

In the spirit of learning, let’s dive into some context. The connection between employers and employees continues to be weakened by several factors. It’s still easy to find unrealistic attendance policies, unsustainable performance requirements, and unnecessary expectations about how long an employee should stay in a given role.

What do the numbers tell us? According to Gartner, only 26% of companies report compliance with on-site presence rules. Nearly 50% of employees doubt whether they can continue to perform at their current level. And only 50% say they trust their employer.

These are just a few key data points. But they are not engagement metrics. It’s the statistics below involvement. These factors drive both engagement and retention. And if you read between the lines, you will notice that there is a persistent gap between employer expectations and employee reality.

Here’s the kicker: people see no reason to commute to work, or to continue working at a fast pace, or to believe in the credibility and integrity of their leaders. Clearly, The Great Work Reset is still a work in progress.

Other factors: fluid labor and a new look at loyalty

More problems loom over this bleak picture. For example, as TalentCulture contributor Matt Poepsel recently noted, today’s job market is increasingly fluid. This means recruiters, talent management professionals and employers everywhere must adapt to new career path norms.

We can praise technology for making the job search easier than ever and enabling remote work. Despite many employers’ RTO plans, we are indeed experiencing a new normal. And as a rule, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for meeting the enormous challenge of remote work brought on by the pandemic.

People prefer to build on victory, not on loss. And now employees spend 30% less time in the office, which they often see as a good thing. But that taste of freedom and flexibility is not easy for employers to swallow – especially not in the current economic crisis.

I remember not long ago talking about why and how employers should weigh the risks and benefits of a global workplace. A major risk is that competition for talent has spread globally, thanks to the rise of remote and hybrid working. If you’re a smaller employer who once recruited promising next-generation employees from nearby colleges, your talent acquisition strategy is much more complex and challenging.

Add another factor to the mix: Younger employees aren’t sticking around just because it looks good on their resume. Do you remember this classic recruitment wisdom? Look for candidates who have shown loyalty to former employers by staying at their job for at least two years.

Not anymore. This standard is quickly becoming outdated. 70% of Gen Zers see nothing wrong with constantly changing jobs. Additionally, 21% of millennials left their jobs within their first year. The apparent lack of loyalty is further fueled by massive, ongoing layoffs at organizations of all sizes. The 2023 tech layoffs continue even as 2024 begins. Case in point: Unity Software is already making headlines after cutting nearly 25% of its workforce, and Google is warning of further cuts. What goes around, comes around.

Why learning is important in the great work Reset

This leads to what employees want most from employers (besides reasonable pay and benefits). They want opportunities to grow. Why? A sense of confidence, competence and security no longer comes from a pension and a daily work routine. It comes from knowing that your job involves constant learning, development and the ability to acquire new skills that will serve you well now and in the future.

We don’t need to discuss the complexities of selecting the right platform for delivering formal training or choosing the ideal curriculum for positions from entry level to C-Suite. Instead, let’s focus on three clear benefits: the why, not the what.

1. Learning is loyalty

First, nothing says you value employees more than investing in their growth. Providing a broad, personalized L&D program makes it clear that you don’t see people simply as substitutes or staffers. You see them as individuals with their own journeys – probably outside your organization. You see them as employees with potential and promise that you want to optimize while they are with you, and not alone because they are with you. That is a new kind of loyalty from employer to employee. And again: what goes around, comes around.

2. Learning is well-being

Lately I’ve been paying attention to several insightful discussions about employee well-being. For example, at TalentCulture we recognize contributors who have hit the mark with a monthly Content Impact Award. A recent recipient, Erin Rouble, explored the work-at-any-cost mentality that has exhausted so many people. She notes that “grind culture” is taking a serious toll on mental and physical health at all levels (for more, see this Deloitte study). And this creates a surprising perception gap between employers and employees.

As Erin writes, “While only 56% of employees think leaders care about their well-being, a whopping 91% of leaders say employees know they care about their well-being.” It’s not a stretch to say that eleven-hour days and poor performance expectations are a bad way to say you care about your staff. No wonder loyalty is declining.

So do promote well-being? It goes beyond the usual answers. Yes, fitness, mindfulness, stress reduction. These all play a role. But again, wellness must now look beyond daily habits. The opportunity to learn new skills empowers people. Pathways that encourage people to face the future with more knowledge, competence and confidence can make a lasting difference. This type of learning increases engagement, reduces stress and helps people thrive.

Cultivating a positive professional mindset means giving people a sense of forward momentum and potential to succeed. No amount of inspirational break room posters or recognition emoji can match that kind of validation (although both can obviously play a meaningful role in a supportive work culture.)

3. Learning is strategy

Matt Poepsel’s labor market article references a fascinating LinkedIn study on internal mobility and employee skills. Last year, organizations whose employees excelled in skills development saw a 15% higher internal mobility rate than employers where learning lagged.

There is no doubt that internal mobility is a potentially viable solution in today’s difficult labor market. If you can develop and upskill employees so that they are qualified candidates for successive positions, you can build a super workplace dynamic that drives engagement and certainly stronger retention rates.

Additionally, offering a variety of learning experiences and resources that employees can choose and complete on-demand is a not-so-subtle way to promote employee agency. It might even offset the perception that RTO and other new policies undermine that agency.

This is not about manipulating attitudes. Rather, it’s about relaxing them. Work is inherently a transactional phenomenon. When employees are encouraged to develop valuable skills and credentials that prepare them for the future, they are less likely to respond to requests to spend time in the office. They see an additional benefit that will pay off over time. Additionally, if Company

Learning and Resetting the Great Work: A Final Note

In these hyper-digital times, we strive to rely on data and absolute numbers when developing talent acquisition and management strategies. But sometimes it’s the intangible things that matter most. As employers look for a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in their work experiences, it may be worth resetting your priorities so you can step into your employees’ shoes.

I’ve seen organizations go through incredible (and expensive) communications exercises to come up with seemingly inspiring mission statements and slogans. But nothing appeals to hearts and minds like the potential for personal and professional advancement. When an employer demonstrates a sincere, ongoing commitment to mutual growth, great things can happen.

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